City Feed Workers Seek First Contract

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By Michael Gutierrez

Jamaica Plain: Workers at the grocery store City Feed & Supply voted to form a union this past June. The vote came on the heels of an outpouring of local support and rode the wave of a national unionizing trend in business sectors not traditionally associated with union representation. 

The vote was certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), mandating formal recognition of their union City Feed Unite (CFU), an affiliate of the Boston Industrial Workers of the World (Boston IWW).

Formal recognition means that ownership is mandated to recognize the CFU as the collective bargaining unit of its workforce. A hiring freeze, overwork, and a schedule that generates wait times and subpar service due to understaffing high-volume periods are among the chief concerns of CFU workers. But as many newly unionized shops are discovering, pushing bosses to respect labor law requires the same militancy as does unionizing in the first place. 

The workers at City Feed celebrated the union win, while realizing that more work is yet to be done. As reported in the Boston Compass,

“It’s proof that all the time they spent having one on one conversations with people actually worked,” said one CFU-affiliated IWW organizer, who asked not to be named in order to protect future employment security. “They were able to change their coworkers minds’ substantially.”

Regarding the 20-10 City Feed vote, Spooner [a City Feed worker and organizer] acknowledged that in addition to the 10 votes cast against unionizing, several employees did not cast a ballot. He said this should be taken as a sign that more work is to be done in ensuring all voices are included in the union’s vision and development.

As the focus of CFU turns to negotiations, it seeks a good faith negotiating partner in the ownership at City Feed & Supply, David Warner and Kristine Cortese. Based on a tweet update from the CFU sent out mid-July, it appears that the rapport between CFU and ownership is suboptimal.

While it’s important to let the negotiations play out, the CFU, Boston IWW, and the local community will be watching to see whether ownership acts in good faith during this phase of the process. Solidarity may be needed in the near future to bring community pressure to bear on City Feed ownership.

Imposing an artificial hiring freeze during busy periods is a potential union busting tactic, meant to introduce workplace stress that taxes solidarity, dampens enthusiasm for organizing, and scares off participants in the pro-union vote. Owners will embrace high turnover if it means regaining control over its workforce rather than addressing them as equals, even if it leads to a worse experience for customers. Corporate mega giants like Amazon have raised the union-busting tactic of high turnover to a fine art, and smaller business owners have taken note.

The ownership of City Feed & Supply did not respond to a request for comment.

You can follow CFU and the Boston IWW on Twitter to stay up-to-date on the struggle for a fair contract at City Feed.

Michael Gutierrez is a Boston DSA member, on Twitter as @taco2day.

Article originally published at Hump Day News.

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